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In what is likely the final game at Candlestick Park, the 49ers sent the old lady out in style. Despite dominating most of the second half, the 49ers defense found themselves backed up in their red zone after a successful onside kick by the Falcons. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan tried to fit a short pass to his receiver against an all out blitz and Tramaine Brock made the play of the game, breaking on the ball and his deflection went right into the arms of Navarro Bowman who raced 89 yards for the touchdown to seal the victory. It seems quite fitting that with a playoff berth hanging in the balance it was the 49ers defense that would come up with the deciding play.
The 49ers now go into the final week of the season with a playoff spot locked up and can be seeded anywhere from second through sixth. A 49ers win combined with a Seattle loss gives the 49ers the NFC West division title for the 3rd season in a row. A 49ers win combined with a Seattle win puts the 49ers in the fifth seed, and a 49ers loss combined with a Saints win will put them in the sixth seed.
Here are the answers to the 5 burning questions I asked on Friday.
1) How will the 49ers offense handle the loss of Bruce Miller? -
As most expected, it wasn't a single player that filled the role left open by the injury to Miller. The first time the 49ers had a fullback in the game it was Will Tukuafu making a huge block on the inside linebacker to open a hole for Gore.
Next up was Anthony Dixon, leading Gore for a gain on their Power O. In the fourth quarter, the 49ers used Dixon in the Pistol and ran a triple option, with Kaepernick faking the dive to him before running for 9 yards with the halfback on his hip looking for a pitch.
The creativity didn't end there. The 49ers ran six plays on the night from their two tight end sets utilizing Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald in the backfield as well.
In the end, the 49ers had run the ball for an average of over six yards per game.
2) Can Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks take advantage of the Falcons tackles? - No
A tip of the hat goes to the offensive coaching staff of the Falcons. They chipped Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks on almost every pass play, slowing them down just enough for the tackles to be able to get into a good position and keep them at bay. The strategy worked and each ended the game with only 1 quarterback hit.
3) Will the 49ers passing game take off? - No and Yes
The 49ers came out in the first half looking to throw the ball, dropping Kaepernick back to pass on 15 of their 23 plays. The result was Kaepernick going 6-11 for 75 yards to go with 2 scrambles for 13 yards and 2 sacks.
In the second half, the 49ers flipped the script, dropping Kaepernick back on only 13 of 31 plays, but it was Kaepernick making chunk plays with two big completions to Michael Crabtree for 66 yards to set up a 10 yard touchdown throw on a screen to Anquan Boldin.
Overall Kaepernick finished the night 13-21 for 197 yards and 1 touchdown, for an average of 9.4 yards per attempt.
4) Can the 49ers keep the pattern alive? - No
"Since Jim Harbaugh took over in 2011 the 49ers have defeated opponents with a losing record by an average of 21 points in games held at Candlestick Park."
The 49ers did keep the streak of defeating teams with a losing record alive, but they failed to put the game away until the final moments.
5) Can the 49ers snap the streak? - Yes
"Mike Smith took over as head coach of the Falcons in 2008, and since that time the Falcons have not lost a game on the West Coast."
Smith had the Falcons ready to play and they showed flashes of why they had the best regular season in the NFC last season. It wasn't the blow out that many had predicted, but in the second half the 49ers pulled away for the win.
49ers 31 Falcons 13